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Go for Gold: Four Tips for Winning Business Presentations

February 13, 2014

World-class athletes spend countless hours, days, and even years training to reach their hard-earned goal to compete at the Olympic games. Their truly awesome performances are a testament to the discipline, determination and toughness required to be the best of the best.

Although business presentations don’t require years spent on the slopes, on the ice, or in the gym, they do require mental, emotional, and yes, even physical toughness, to succeed. If you want your presentations to stand out from the crowd, you’ll need to thoroughly prepare and, essentially, to train.

I was reminded of this reality recently while delivering a presentation on effective communication for a business organization I had just joined. My audience was business professionals, many of whom I didn’t know. Of course, I wanted it to go well. I wanted to captivate them, to impress them, the way I am captivated by the Olympic figure skaters I watch on TV. They make their routines look so effortless; it’s easy to forget they are actually on skates, gliding at a quick pace across an unforgiving surface. Figure skaters are the swans of the Olympics, all grace and poise. Yet, below the surface, there is tremendous effort based on years of preparation.

Like many performers, I’m the first to admit I have butterflies when I have to present to people I don’t know. So, in order to — hopefully like those figure skaters — present with grace and poise,­ I spent a good deal of time preparing, a.k.a. “training.”

I use the following checklist to help focus my own presentations. I hope it helps you do the same.

Go for Gold: Four Tips for Winning Business Presentations

-Warm up: Your warm up is the hours (and hours!) you spend tweaking and practicing your presentation.

-Stretch: Push yourself to new heights. Try techniques such as visualization as you practice, because new techniques may well enhance your presentation. Go beyond your comfort zone. Rather than focusing only on the content of your presentation, scan the room to connect with individual members of the audience. And, if you feel those butterflies, look up and smile at someone. Eye contact and smiles can move your presentation to another level.

-Compete: Look good when you enter the room. Your physical presence, from dressing in a way that projects your professional best, to standing straight and appearing physically relaxed, will help you embrace a competitive edge, one that says you are good at what you do.

-Stay focused: Just like the “inner game of tennis,” so much of making a winning presentation is mental. Stay focused, and let your genuine passion for the subject of the presentation show. This passion, perhaps more than anything else, will persuade someone to pay attention.

Of course, all of the above tips evolve from knowing your goal and your audience. When I presented to the business organization I’d just joined, I knew my audience would expect a presentation that was polished, crisp, and to the point. Happily, their positive responses reinforced my “training” approach. I may not have won a gold medal, but having people tell me how much they liked my presentation, was for me, its own kind of victory.

If you have any questions about how you can create winning business presentations, contact me at

Business Communication: Up Close and Personal

September 16, 2013

It’s hard to resist the attraction of the “red carpet” at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) every September. There’s something really compelling about watching Hollywood stars, people I usually see on the movie screen playing a role, as actual human beings.

This year I found myself thinking about how much those red carpet moments actually matter not just to the fans at TIFF, but also to the actors themselves. It’s an opportunity for them to interact with their audience. Even if it’s just a smile or a nod, it’s being there in the flesh, up close and personal.

The interesting thing though is that successful business communication also depends, to a degree, on that personal connection. It’s a topic I’ve touched on before in various blog posts. So in honor of TIFF, I decided to compile a kind of “best of” tips list about how to make a personal appeal to your “audience,” whether it’s a client, a boss or an employee.

How to get “up close and personal” in your business communication

1. Get physical: So much of our person-to-person contact is about how we connect physically. Do you make eye contact? Is your body posture confident and relaxed? Do your gestures underscore the points you want to make? See: Nonverbal Communication.

2. Be thoughtful: Choose your words carefully, using compelling language. Powerful language can help to create change, and influence other people. Always make sure that both your choice of words and your tone are appropriate for your audience. See: The Art of Persuasion: Key to Effective Communication.

3. Be a storyteller: A good deal of engaging communication is really about storytelling. Start a presentation, for example, with something personal, an anecdote. It makes people listen to what you have to say; it’s the “hook” that draws people in. And make it something from the heart, because ultimately it’s about trying to make a real human connection. See: Four Top Tips on How to Make Your Communication Impressive.

4. Be focused, and ask good questions: Good business communication is like a good conversation, and a good conversation depends largely on two things. One is paying attention and listening to the other person. Two is asking questions that draw that person out. The same applies to business communication. To be heard, understood, and responded to considerately is at the bottom of most high quality communication. See: How to Get the Answers You Want.

Remember; people in business, as in the rest of life, need personal interaction. And even if we never saunter down the red carpet wearing a designer outfit, it’s still good for business.

For more top tips on how to get “up close and personal” and be more effective in your communication, take advantage of our 15% fall discount and sign up for our popular business email writing course.

Business Communication: What do You Say When…

August 30, 2013

The other night I attended a business-networking event where I sat at dinner with six women I’d never met before. Being a leisurely event on an outdoor patio, I decided I’d just enjoy getting to know some interesting new people and not worry about doing the usual networking business talk about my company.

But as soon as there was a lull in the speeches, the woman at the opposite end of the table, directed her attention to me and asked in a loud voice, “What do you do?” Everyone else fell silent at that moment, their eyes upon me. Not missing a beat, I defaulted to my typical networking knee jerk response — I talked about my business, essentially making my elevator pitch. Responding in this way seems to work well at standup networking events where the goal is to walk around the room and connect with as many people as you can.

In this situation though, I felt like I was holding forth to a trapped audience, who were unable to move on because of the appointed table seating. Fortunately, I was finally interrupted by others at the table asking me questions. And in the end, we had some interesting conversations on a variety of topics, other than our businesses. Yet in my mind, here was a missed opportunity. We could have chatted first about our lives, our kids, new shoes, summer vacations, whatever. And then eased into the business conversations. Ultimately, it would have been more satisfying for everyone.

After all, networking isn’t just about exchanging business cards and making elevator pitches; it’s really about creating a connection, a relationship between people. Making that connection is a whole lot more likely to happen if you speak to another person, as exactly that, — as another person — rather than a potential client or business partner.

So at your next networking event, why not try the following kinds of responses when someone asks, “what do you do?” They may just be the icebreaker that works.

What do you say when someone asks, “What do you do?”

- “I like to (fill in the blank): walk my dog/eat cherry ice cream/run marathons/spend time with my kids/steal the remote from my husband so I don’t have to watch sports.”

- “I like spending my leisure time reading /watching movies. What are YOU reading/watching right now?”

- “I confess I get nervous when asked that question. Crazy, but true I know, since I often attend networking events. What kinds of things make you nervous?”

-“I like my work, and I’d love to tell you about it. But first, I’m curious. Where did you get those shoes/purse/iPad case?”

You get the idea. Have fun. Use your imagination. Don’t take it too seriously. And before you know it, you may end up making your elevator pitch anyway, but it won’t sound like one, it will just sound like one person, talking to another.

5 steps for mastering winning communication

July 31, 2013

I get my best ideas in the shower. Others may turn for inspiration to the Internet or to brainstorming with colleagues; for me there’s something about the movement of water that gets the creative juices flowing. (Except when water is flowing into my house, as it did during the recent devastating thunderstorm in Toronto. But that’s another story!)

Because I do a lot of work in the area of business communication, (i.e. workshops, writing and presenting), I’m always trying to come up with ways to help people achieve mastery in their communication. The other day in the shower I found myself thinking that understanding how we think is key to achieving winning communication. It’s not unlike problem solving. We all tackle problems in our own way, sometimes with more success, sometimes less. The degree of success is directly connected to our approach to the problem. But if we are analytical and understand how we solve problems, we have a better chance of modifying our problem-solving habits and getting better results. It’s the same with communication.

There are two kinds of brain activities that rule our problem solving and communication abilities. One is at a subconscious level; the other is at a meta level, where we analyze our own processes. What I’m talking about is metacognition, which boils down to this: “knowing about knowing.”

Understanding this concept matters, because gaining control of our own cognitive processes will help us be more deliberate in the way we communicate. And if we have control over the way in which we communicate, our chances of being heard and understood are that much greater. I think of it as “meta planning for success.” And these five steps are crucial to the process. Although I’ve outlined them in terms of written work, the core ideas apply to any form of communication.

Five steps for mastering winning communication

1. Begin at the end: Begin with the end in mind — you need to know your goal and your intended audience.

2. Think laterally: Don’t just leap in and start writing from point a. to z., brainstorm and stretch your thinking, writing down the ideas as they come.

3. Rough it out: Construct a rough version of the best ideas, with a view towards putting them in a logical sequence.

4. Streamline: Go through your work again, streamlining, modifying, and chopping anything that is repetitious.

5. Check the fine print: Do a fine edit; read through slowly and carefully, and proofread for mistakes.

If you are not used to breaking down the communication process in this way, it may seem daunting at first. In fact, someone at a workshop I led recently told me she was concerned that these steps would take too long. But I reassure you, as I did her, that once you begin to work in this logical, thoughtful way, it will quickly become second nature.

And if you do, you’ll have a much better chance of creating winning communication, instead of creating something you may well need to redo because it’s confusing or incomplete. And you won’t even have to get wet in order to create that winning communication!

Do you have any questions about creating winning communication? Contact me at

Building Better Communication Through Actionable Books

March 31, 2013

Image courtesy of david.orban from Flickr.

Building Better Communication Through Actionable Books

Strong teams are built on trust and a deep understanding of other’s values, aspirations and motivation, supported by a mutual appreciation of each other. But how can hard working professionals with little time come to understand and develop that trust and appreciation that's so important to their long term success? How does a team take time to connect? Most of us aren’t ready to sit in a circle, sing kumbaya, and share our feelings.

At Actionable Books, we've been developing the concept of Collaborative Communication which offers a highly effective method of fast-tracking cultural development and team trust growth. 

Collaborative Communication, as a team development methodology, is about getting all members of a team (including its manager) to learn a new concept together.  As a collaborative unit, the team works to understand what a concept, process, or best practice means and how it might apply to its unique circumstances. At, we've created a tool called Actionable Workshops that provides busy team leaders with access to forty-four pre-packaged modules that make it easy for these conversations to come to life in a team’s office. Here's an example of how it might play out:

Let's say the manager wants to talk about time management. So she grabs a workshop inspired by The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by the late Stephen Covey. Over the course of the first 20 minutes of an hour long session, the manager would explain a few concepts from the book, making sure that everyone understands them clearly (We call this "tactical learning."). Then, during the remaining 40 minutes of the session, the team (including the manager) works through exercises that help them figure out how to apply those time management concepts to their own lives and business. Those 40 minutes become a catalyst for deeper thinking, planning and - most importantly - conversation. 

Team members walk away from each workshop session with practical knowledge that they can each apply to their professional lives, as well as a deeper understanding of the people around them. When run on a frequent basis (Every 4-6 weeks has proven to provide maximum impact.), these sessions act as an anchoring point for team growth.

The obvious benefit of this approach is that the team learns something new every month, without having to read an entire book. The perhaps not-so-obvious benefit - one that far outweighs the tactical learning - is that, for an hour a month, the team gets to communicate with each other, discuss their professional life without referring to immediate issues, fires that need to be put out, or specific client cases. More importantly, the conversation is not a manager vs team mentality that many employee performance reviews take. Instead, the manager and her team are collaborating, working through the concept together; discussing the potential application to the business and to the team. Working together to  apply an idea, the team connects with something deeper, i.e. issues, feelings and aspirations that are lurking just below the surface.

We're so busy in our lives, flying from fire to fire, that we rarely take time to reflect on what's important to us in the long term. Even more rarely do we engage in conversation like this with our peers. Over the last four years at Actionable Books, we've found that teams who do have these types of conversations, on a regular basis, consistently realize higher productivity, lower turnover and a general increase in morale. It makes sense, doesn't it? If you could come to work knowing that your colleagues understand and respect you, and that you all share a desire to see each other succeed, wouldn't you be willing to work harder? Wouldn't you think twice before moving to another company?

People want to be engaged in their work. They want to feel that what they do matters and that they have the support of the people around them in pursuing their own aspirations. As a leader, you have the ability - and the obligation - to create an environment that supports those desires. And you can use Actionable Books to help you achieve these goals.

The Language Lab Guest Blogger: Chris Taylor is the Founder and President of; providing high performing leaders with tools to quickly and inexpensively develop themselves, their teams and their work relationships. To learn more and for a free trial of Actionable Workshops visit

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